Air raids in Yemen kill 25 suspected militants in al-Qaeda southern stronghold

Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has exploited the decline in central government control since protests begun last year. (AFP)

Twin air strikes on a house in the al-Qaeda stronghold of Jaar in south Yemen on Tuesday killed 42 people, including 25 suspected al-Qaeda militants, an Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

The al-Qaeda suspects were killed in the first air strike while eight civilians who had gathered around the residence right after the attack died in a second air raid, witnesses said, according to AFP news agency.

It was not clear whether the raid on Jaar, in southern Abyan province, was carried out by U.S. drones or by the Yemeni air force.

A Yemeni aircraft had on Friday dropped leaflets across Abyan province warning residents to stay clear of areas where al-Qaeda militants are gathered.

Meanwhile, two soldiers were killed in battles between Yemen’s army and al-Qaeda militants around Loder, another town in the southern Abyan province, an army official said.

The official said that 13 members of the Popular Resistance Committees, formed by residents of Loder and nearby Mudia to battle jihadists alongside the army, were wounded in the clashes.

Yemeni forces at the weekend launched an all-out offensive to recapture al-Qaeda-held towns and cities across Abyan, including its capital Zinjibar.

Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has exploited the decline in central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests that eventually forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power in February.

Tribal sources said Monday that battles in the south had seen 37 militants killed in two days, but AFP could not independently verify the toll.

A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that 12 soldiers have been killed since the operation was launched on Saturday. But the defense ministry news website put the toll at six dead.

Also on Monday, suspected al-Qaeda militants blew up a gas pipeline supplying Yemen’s Balhaf export terminal in the Gulf of Aden, the second such attack in a month, a government official said on Monday.

“A gas pipeline was blown up near Mayfaa” in Shabwa province in southeast Yemen late on Sunday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Al-Qaeda blew up the pipeline in response to the raids that targeted it” over the past week, the official said.

Witnesses told AFP that flames were seen flaring into the sky from the site of the explosion that took place around midnight, some 30 minutes after soldiers guarding the pipeline clashed with a group of gunmen.

Earlier last week, air strikes by U.S. drones in eastern Yemen killed jihadist network leader Fahd al-Quso, wanted by Washington in connection with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbour.

Quso’s name figured on an FBI list of most wanted terrorists, along with a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

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